Category Archives: random thoughts

Why I Am Growing a Garden This Season

The drought. We are all trying to save water. I haven’t bathed in weeks. I barely flush the toilet. But dammit, I am growing a garden this year. Why?

Because I’m part of a farm tour.

Just joking.

I’m growing my own vegetables this year this year precisely because there is a drought. 80% of a California’s water is used for big agricultural operations. Almonds. Grapes. Oranges. Rice. All water hogs–and much of the harvest is sold overseas. By planting a diverse garden that will feed local people, I am saying: this is the scale that is sustainable.

Small farms care about tending their soil, building their soil. One of the biggest benefits of healthy soil is less run-off during irrigation. In Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary, Symphony of the Soil, scientists at the Rodale Institute showed that conventional agricultural-use soil doesn’t retain water, it just runs off, causing erosion and making the soil saline. But in organic or deeply mulched soils, that water is held in the soil, to be better accessed by the plants’ roots.

A small urban farm can also draw upon local resources in order to water–eg the washing machine. It’s legal to use washing machine water in your garden if these 12 guidelines are followed. You don’t need a permit. We use a special laundry soap (Oasis) so we can water our fruit trees with washing machine water. Our household of six people does about 3 loads a week, meaning 120/gallons a week go toward watering our 29 fruit trees.

There’s also a method called dry farming–basically torturing your poor tomatoes, squash and potatoes by withholding water. But as a salty old French grape farmer told me once, “We make our grapes suffer, and they taste better for it.” Same principle with your veg: mulch and add compost to your veggies, water the plant until it sets fruit, then stop watering completely. You’ll get a smaller yield, but better tasting produce. Note that this will only work if the plant can reach way down into the deep soil–it doesn’t work for container gardening.

Ok, that’s my spiel–what are you doing to save water, and garden at the same time?

P.S. This Sunday, May 31, I’m on a panel for Oakland first Book Festival!! 1:30 at Laurel Books in Frank Ogawa Plaza. Come on by, I’ll be giving away some plant starts.

Denver Report

Howdy, just took a quick trip to Denver. I was invited by Lisa Rogers of Feed Denver, an urban farming organization that was putting on a conference for folks in Denver growing food in the city. I was blown away by some of the urban farmers I met. It’s always so humbling and fun to meet some fellow dirt grubbers. We have many of the same troubles and triumphs.

Here’s Lisa, a farmer from Seattle named Patrick, and Steve, a farmer at 5 Fridges Farm.
denvergh

5 Fridges was really cool. Steve uses 1.5 acres of a 13 acre nature preserve (yes, in Denver city limits) to grow a CSA for 70 families!! Holy bio-intensive planting. Besides veg, they also had goats and chickens.
denvergoat
And they had built a commercial kitchen that they were going to rent out for classes and pickling sessions.

One of the big problems in Denver is the dang land is so expensive! I was shocked to hear about the high rents and property values. Some of it is that Denver is having a boom, partially driven by the legalization of recreational pot. Seems like every warehouse was growing the stuff, and so there are fewer places to live so rent is high. Denver rents were as high as those in Oakland/SF!! It actually made me worry about what will happen when (if?) California passes recreational pot legislation. Will it be another giant land grab? Sadly, one of the oldest urban gardens in Denver–Gabrielle’s Garden, run by UrbiCulture Community Farms–has to relocate because developers are selling the land for $3 million dollars. It reminded me of Hayes Valley Farm (RIP).

But then there was good news, too. I met a husband and wife team who have 7 acres of family land in Denver that they are cultivating. Everitt Farms is hoping to become a community center and market, selling produce and flowers.

The scale, the wide open spaces, the potential–that is Denver.

Left My Soul in Europe

I am so jetlegged. I’ve heard it’s because my soul hasn’t caught up with my physical body. Might be that I took a 2.9 year old with me to Italy/France. I was there in Italy to take part in a conference put on by an Italian magazine called Internationale. They paid for me to go and put me up in a hotel, and paid for all my food. Yum. Still dreaming of this slipper like pasta filled with the local winter squash, Violina, I think was the variety. Forgot to take seeds home with me. (Good thing, I was searched at customs and for once didn’t have any contraband cheese on my person).

Also got to hang with my sister, flew over to Toulouse and stayed at their awesome house/farmstead.
It was quality sister time: we went mushroom picking, gardened together, and she fed me obscene amounts of food.

Glad to be back home, doing my thing, though. Which, btw, will involve a reading with LitQuake Thursday, Oct 16, at the Lake Chalet in Oakland 6-8pm.
And October 17th I’ll be at the Oakland Museum of California, at 7pm in the Natural history display of a Tule Elk. Here’s the link for that event.
Finally, October 18, I’ll be in Hayward for this:
California Reads: A visit with bestselling author Novella Carpenter, discussing her new memoir Gone Feral: Tracking My Dad Through the Wild – Saturday, October 18, 2:00 pm @ Hayward Main Library. Find complete California Reads schedule at: http://hayward-ca.gov/veterans

Ciao!!

Tonight: Me and the Kraz

Sorry for for the short notice, but I’ll be at Dominican University tonight at 7pm in conversation with Michael Krasny. We’re going to be talking about my first book, Farm City, which was selected as this year’s One Book, One Marin read. The event is in the Angelico Concert Hall. Good times! Take a hike, then come on over to Dominican.

Oh no family emergency

Sorry everyone, have to cancel Friday and Saturday’s open farm. My dad is sick and I am flying to Idaho tomorrow.

Pumpkins and Honey

Thanks to everyone who came out to the farm last Saturday. It was a great day, though it was too hot. I swear, I’m going to buy an umbrella. I’m also going to perfect the samples so everyone gets to try everything without cutting off a finger (eg employing a useful tool called a cutting board).

This weekend, I will get to put these new ideas up to good use because here comes another flurry of activities at GT Farm.

This Friday, Oct 4, 5pm-7pm, we will be celebrating Oakland First Friday art walk by having a little open farm stand. Maybe we will be carving pumpkins. Maybe doing a honey extraction. Definitely I will be selling produce. I still have some tomatoes and pumpkins, and a couple plant starts too.

Here’s a pumpkin growing in the garden….

Image

Then, Saturday Oct 5, 10am-1pm, it’ll be another, and the last of the year, open farm day. There will be tours at 10:15, 11:15, and 12:15. Come on by and meet the chickens, buy some honey, and snag a pumpkin.

The address, as always: 2727 Martin Luther King Jr Way (that’s 28th street and MLK, entrance on 28th Street).

Also: thanks to that guy who brought me that giant beautiful green pumpkin!! That was sweet.